By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
As constituted right now, the Red Sox are a .500 ball club.
On Monday, July 25 the Red Sox played their 100th game of the season and lost, 3-1. After that game, which ended a four-game winning streak, the Sox were 62-38, 24 games over .500. Yesterday, the Sox lost to Tampa Bay in game number 146 to drop their record to 85-61, 24 games over .500.
The fact that the Sox have played .500 ball, 23-23, since that Monday in July says a lot about the team. While the teams slump has been most visible lately -- they've won just twice in their last 11 games -- we can look back at that tipping point and see the beginning of the troubles that they are encountering full blast right now.
With 241 runs scored over that time period, second only to the Yankees (theyve scored 262), we know that this team can hit with the best of them.
With 221 runs allowed since that date, they are in a group that includes Toronto, Baltimore, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Oakland, which means that the Sox pitching ranks with teams whose records are among the worst in the AL.
There is no denying the Red Sox hitting is outstanding:
Boston is second the majors in batting, slightly behind Texas, both with a .279 average.
They are second to the Yankees in the majors in homers with 183.
They dropped to second in the majors in runs scored with 283, as the Yankees moved on top with 785.
They lead the majors in OBP, slugging, and OPS.
But look at the pitching:
The American League average ERA is 4.05; the Sox average is 4.08.
They have thrown just two complete games all season, tied with the Royals for worst in the AL.
The average team in the AL has allowed 447 walks; the Sox pitchers have walked 476, the same as the Orioles.
This team was constructed around the pitching of the big three: Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, with the drop-off around the fringes being quite significant. Those who stated early in the season that the Sox pitching was deep because of Lackey and Dice-K were only fooling themselves. They are nothing more than fourth or fifth starters in most rotations -- and they've actually proven to be worse than most.
I understand that the Sox have had injuries to every member of their rotation, which is why they have had 10 different pitchers on the hill to start a game. But, other than the mixed results of Erik Bedard and Tim Wakefield, the replacements have struggled. The fact is that when Dice-K went down for the season, the Sox made no real move to replace him as Miller, Aceves and Wake were moved into the rotation at different points. It was only at the trading deadline that the Sox added the oft-injured Erik Bedard and by that time Buchholz had been out of action for six weeks. The Sox had no one, and still have no one, to replace John Lackey.
If you leave out the big three of Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, the Sox starters have a record of 29-27, just over .500 but that isnt even an accurate reflection of how poorly Bedard, Dice-K, Aceves, Wakefield, Miller, Lackey, and Weiland have pitched as starters. Their cumulative starting ERA of 5.57 really tells the story.
The starting pitching has been questionable all season (may I remind you that Buchholz had given up 10 homers in 82.2 innings this year after giving up just nine in 173.2 last year) and the moves that have been made are somewhat akin to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Lets go to the numbers:
A quality start doesnt seem that difficult, six innings, three or fewer runs allowed. The Sox starters have managed to do that in only 68 games or 47 of their starts. Only the Orioles and Royals have a lower percentage.
Throwing a Quality Start in no way means a Sox win. Of Bostons 68 Quality Starts, the Sox have lost 14 of them, a rate of 21 percent. The Yankees, who entered the season with a starting pitching staff that was not regarded any more highly than mediocre have thrown 77 quality starts and have lost just 12 of those games, a rate of 16 percent. The Tigers pitchers, with the Great Verlander, have now thrown 81 quality starts, and have lost just 10 of the games, an efficient 12 percent. The Texas pitchers have 89 quality starts with 10 losses an even better 11 percent.
Before you blame the hitters, they have enabled Sox starters to earn a bunch of cheap wins. This is actually a real stat representing a win by the starter in a non-Quality Start. The Sox have 21 cheap wins for their starters, more than any other team in the leagueby a lot. The Yankees and the Tigers are second, each with 14, while the Rangers, Angels and Mariners have the fewest in the league with just five.
Here is your quotable stat: RSIP which is Runs Scored per 27 outs while the pitcher was in the game. This indication of run support for the Sox starters is 5.7, the highest in the league.
Yet, despite all those runs, the Sox starters have only pitched an average of 5.9 innings this season. Think about the pressure put on the bullpen by performances like that.
Lets briefly discuss the bullpen, which has seemed in disarray of late except for Jonathan Papelbon, who continues to build up his free agency resume. Throughout the season, it is the bullpen that has exhibited the better performances.
Cumulatively, the pen is 23-19 on the season. The Yank relievers are 22-15, the Tigers are 19-18, and the Rangers are 18-25 (hello, Achilles heel).
Cumulatively, the Sox relievers are appeared in 390 games. The Yank relievers 388, the Tigers 375, and the Rangers 369.
So why are the Sox relievers wearing out? On 119 occasions, they have had to pitch more than one inning in an appearance; the Yankee relievers have been called upon to do that 93 times, the Tigers 104 times, and the Rangers just 90 times. Once again, the short starts are brought into play.
Even Daniel Bard is showing signs of fatigue. In the first half of the season he held righties to a .116 average, in the second half a still good, but not as spectacular, .224. Bard held lefties prior to the break to a .200 average in 84 plate appearances and since just .180 in 74 plate appearances. But, there has even been a price for that success. In the 10 fewer plate appearances, Bard has been forced to throw six more pitches as lefties are now able to foul off 48.9 of his pitches compared to 35.4 before the break. Thats another sign of fatigue.
All this is not to say that the Sox are not going to make the postseason. Its not even saying that the Sox wont win the World Series. If Pedey comes home tomorrow night against the Jays and reinvigorates the team to return to the level of success they showed after their initial 0-6 road trip, all could be well. Glorious, even.
The truth is, they just need to play around .500 to make the postseason. If they split the 16 games remaining, they will finish at 93-69. For the Rays to tie them, they must go 12-5. Not impossible, but not likely considering they have three each against the Orioles and Jays, four against Boston, and seven against New York remaining.
But heres the truth that Francona has to grapple with: When the Sox score four or fewer runs, their record is 27-49.
Once you get into the postseason the better the pitching, which means it becomes harder to score five runs. But even if Beckett comes back healthy and even as the Nation holds out hope that Buchholz can return, five runs is what this team needs to win games.
And the truth is: thats a lot of runs.